That dude looks like a gay little bitch…
This blog post is about my kids. It’s about your kids. It’s about other people’s kids. If you know a kid in real life, do me a favor and read this, because it’s about you, too. If you ARE a kid, even better. Don’t worry, I won’t use big words in this post. I don’t know any.
And I’ll try not to use too many curse words.
I have three kids. They’re all boys, ages 11, 12 and 15. They all have phones. They all have access to our Wi-Fi. They all have Instagram accounts, the oldest has snapchat and Facebook. You might be the type of parent who doesn’t allow your children access to the internet. If so, that’s great. You should still read this post.
Last night I was scrolling through one of my children’s Instagram accounts. I noticed one of his friends had tagged him in a photo so I clicked on the photo of my child. In the comments, another child who doesn’t know my child replied to his picture with, “That dude looks like a gay little bitch.”
Let’s back up a little bit.
I believe kids should have some form of privacy. If one of my children kept a journal, I wouldn’t read it. Or…at least I would wait until they weren’t home before I snuck into their room and plopped down on their bed with a bag of popcorn while I devoured every scribbled secret. But a journal is one thing…the internet is another.
The internet is not a place where children should feel they can go to get away from their parents. If you’re a parent, you should be all over your child’s internet activity. I’m not saying I read every text my 15-year-old sends to his girlfriend, but if he’s sitting next to me, you better believe he isn’t surprised when I grab his phone, scroll through the texts and check to make sure there aren’t any nudes or inappropriate talk happening. And all of my kids know that at any given moment, my husband or I might snatch their phones right out of their hands and check their browser history. They also aren’t allowed to take their phones to their bedrooms. My belief is that if your child has access to the internet, that means every single person with access to the internet has access to your child.
Would you allow a complete stranger to walk into your daughter’s bedroom and crawl in bed with her at night? If you’re allowing your child to go to bed with their phones, you are allowing for that possibility. I treat the internet just like I treat the real world. If you have a curfew in the real world, you’re going to have an internet curfew.
I am very nosy when it comes to my child’s social media accounts. If they leave the house, I expect to know where they are, who they are with and what they are doing. The internet is no different. Our lives are immersed with technology now. I want to know what social media platforms my kids are accessing, who they are talking to and what they are doing.
Despite how it may appear, I’m not a strict parent. I’m probably the most lenient parent you’ll ever meet. I have a terrible potty mouth, I don’t censor my children’s TV shows or music or video games. Heck, I watched Deadpool with them. Whatever. I’m strict in areas I feel they should be restricted in and lenient in others. It’s all a balance for me, not a battle.
I’m a writer. My work is judged publicly online and sometimes so am I. I’m used to it. I’ve seen it all. I’ve been told to kill myself, I’ve been called fat, I’ve been called ugly, I’ve been told I’m a terrible writer. Granted, the first year I began writing was also the year social media was blowing up, so for about a week, it bothered me. But then I got over it. I soon realized that the things people say online are more often than not things they would never say to me in person. The internet is an invisible shield for some people and a weapon for others. I just make sure to have on my armor when it comes to negativity.
But when I saw that comment about my child…nothing I’ve ever seen written about myself has ever bothered me so much. I have half a million followers across my social media accounts. I see a lot of stuff on a daily basis. I can’t even make a post without seeing at least one shitty remark.
But when that kid said that about my child, I have never been so hurt.
My stomach physically hurt.
Not because of the insult itself, but because I was sure my child had seen the insult. He was already in bed so I didn’t want to wake him up and talk to him about it. But I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is he upset? Depressed? Did he cry? Did he even care?”
I thought about this all night last night and all day today. Finally, about two hours ago, I sat down with my two younger boys at a restaurant and eased into the subject of cyber bullying. I’ve talked to them about it before, about how the bullying needs to stop, they should never bully, they should always stand up for themselves, etc. etc. But how much focus have I put on the hateful comments they will inevitably read about themselves online?
I warred with myself on how to approach this subject with them. I had decided I wasn’t going to tell them about the comment I read, but as I was sitting there with them, I realized me trying to protect them from it now is only going to harm them in the future.
I began the conversation by telling them about mean things people had said to me online. I laughed about it. I told them none of it hurts me because these people would never be brave enough to say this to my face. These people don’t know me, and even if they did, their opinions don’t define me. These are just very unhappy people if saying something hateful online makes them feel powerful or proud of themselves.
Then I told them about the actual comment I saw. I didn’t tell the boys which of them the comment was directed at. I wanted them both to learn from this.
I asked them how it made them feel to know someone said that about one of them.
One of my boys said, “I don’t know. I think if I would have seen it before you told us about it, it might have bothered me.”
I replied, “Why?”
He shrugged again. “I would just wonder why he was being mean if he doesn’t know me.”
And this is the hard part. How do you make a child who is not a cyber bully understand the actions behind the person who is a cyber bully?
I’m not one for sugar coating, so I explained to them that bullies exist. We can try to teach the not-so-nice to be nice, but the truth of the matter is, bullies will ALWAYS exist. I told them that as they grow up, they will read mean things said about them. They will see hateful comments. People they know and especially people they don’t know will be hateful to them at some point online. But it’s very important that they don’t let these foolish words impact them negatively. I told them, “If you allow mean comments to hurt you, then you are giving them power. If you ignore the mean comments, they have no power over you.”
They both said they understood and they said they would never let comments bother them. But the truth of the matter is, they probably will be bothered by them. But maybe after our talk, they won’t be bothered by them as much.
So to the kid who said, That dude looks like a gay little bitch, I hope your mother received my message. And I hope she had a long talk with you. But sadly, I know she probably didn’t. And you probably won’t learn. So for the people like you who want to spread hate, I will continue to teach my children how to not give that hate power. I will continue to teach them not to engage.
And to anyone in the world who ever sees any of my children saying hateful things online to anyone else, please let me know. I don’t care if it’s ten years from now and they’re all adults. I beg you to tell me if they are being disrespectful. Children are never too old to learn. Do your children a favor and go meddle in their online lives. Find out if they are being bullied, if they are doing the bullying, and how they are responding to it. Education should always start at home.
All in all, I thought tonight went well and I was proud of my teaching moment. But then the real teaching moment happened at the very end of our conversation.
My son looked at me and said, “But why was that kid using ‘gay’ as an insult? What’s wrong with being gay?”
If I had a mic, I would have given it to him so he could drop it.